Monthly Archives: January 2013
Brett is just over 10 weeks old now, which is hard to believe. I feel like we brought her home from the hospital about a week ago. Then I look at her newborn pictures and realize that she has transformed from a small, skinny little string bean into a roly-poly pudgy wudge. She weighs over 12 pounds now (she was born at 7.2), and she’s 24 inches long (born 18.5). Her head is so big that I can’t pull some of her clothes on her, even though they fit her body. My aunt has informed me that this is par for the course in our family.
The early days with a baby are hell, frankly. They sleep in short spurts, eat often, cry a lot, and poop constantly. Brett has been sleeping through the night pretty steadily since she was about six weeks old. The first night was five hours, but her record now is 10 hours. She usually sleeps 6-8 hours, though, unless she’s exhausted. She has been in a fussy stage, but there are things I can do to avoid triggering a meltdown, so naturally I follow those general guidelines, and for the most part, she stays happy. She only poops once a day now, which is a blessing, given the state of her poop. She literally “clutches her pearls” (grabs onto her clothing and looks identical to an old lady who has been offended to the core by some indiscretion) and gives me a look like she’s birthing a demon. It’s hilarious and pitiful at the same time.
She’s just gone through another “wonder week,” which is a nice way of saying a developmental leap that will throw her entire world into an utter tailspin. There is nothing wonderful about wonder weeks. The kid eats less, cries more, and acts like a psycho, generally. I think of it as PMS for babies. I understand why they do it; their brains are developing rapidly, and they’re suddenly seeing their big, crazy world all anew for the 57th time. It’s scary and puts them off-balance.
The results of the most recent wonder week have been superb, though. It’s like Brett woke up from the haze of being a newborn and suddenly realized that there’s more to the world than eating, sleeping, and pooping. She is alert now and actually wants to socialize and play. In fact, sometimes she wants to play a little too much and ends up overstimulating herself. She kicks at her toys, loves being tickled, and tries to “talk” when there are conversations going on or if you address her. We have lots of chit-chats throughout the day. She’s making gobs of new and weird sounds, and I imitate them, trying to get her to repeat them so that she starts down the path towards real speech. She’s a total chatterbox, and it’s adorable to watch her grin and babble.
She’s also learning to play independently. I can put her in her pack ‘n play with her toys and her baby gym with the dangly bits, and she stays amused for quite a long time. Usually. Sometimes she decides that she wants Mommy to play with her, and then it’s on. If I don’t pay attention to her immediately, she gets really ticked off and starts throwing a tantrum. There’s no ignoring her, when she sets her mind to getting herself some attention. Most of the time, just seeing me calms things down, and she goes right back to playing happily and talking to her toys.
I’m not sure if the next part is a good or bad thing, but it seems to be a result of this newfound independence, and that is that she no longer wants me to hold her for long periods. She’s happy as can be to be picked up for her feeds, but once she’s done eating, she’s pretty much done being held. She will squawk at me to put her down somewhere so that she can play and watch whatever I’m doing. If I try to hold her against me, she strains and cranes her neck around to see what else is happening in the house. She has no interest in the snuggles that formerly made her so content. She doesn’t even really fancy being rocked to sleep very often anymore – only if she’s had a bad hour or so and really needs the comfort. And even then, sometimes after she’s calmed down, she’ll tell me to put her down. She has even gone so far as to squawk at me to take her to her room for bedtime. She’ll go right to sleep by herself when she does that. It’s incredible.
This is what I begged the heavens for when she was little. I couldn’t wait to put her down and have her be independent and less needy. Now that she has made it abundantly clear that she can do for herself sometimes, as far as entertainment goes, I feel a little bit sad. I know that she’s just growing and discovering her world and wants to be away from the obstructing wall of flesh that is Mom, but sometimes I do like to cuddle her and smell her head and shower her with kisses. She likes the kisses and the playful touch, but she isn’t too interested in the rest of it now, and I sort of miss it. I know, I know – the grass is always greener. If she got clingy, I’d long for her independent streak to show itself again. Everyone told me that there would come a day when I’d be happy for her to want to cling, but I really didn’t believe it at the time. I could do with a cuddle or two more a day than what I’m getting now.
Still, I’m glad that she’s becoming her own person and developing into a more mature baby. It’s fun to watch her grow and learn and get excited by the things that are going on around her. She loves hoot owls and bird calls generally, music and singing, and she can imitate some funny faces. She has a good sense of humor and a relatively sunny disposition, and it’s pretty cool to see that emerge from the fog of newborndom. Newborns are pretty boring and don’t do much to demonstrate any individuality. Seeing that personality start to leak out is fun and exciting for a parent.
I don’t know if the independent streak will prove to be a lasting part of her personality – if it is, she gets it honest from me – or if it will fade as she adjusts to her new reality. I don’t know if she’ll continue to be happy and humorous or if she’ll grow up to be an emo. One thing is for certain, though: my baby is growing up, and she’s growing fast. I just realized that she’s going to be a year old before we know it. I guess my family was right – we need to savor the moments now, because they are fleeting and we won’t get any more from her. She’ll move onwards and upwards, and there is no returning to her former state. Whatever the case, she sure has become a lot more interesting to watch!
On Tuesday evening, I received the news from my uncle that my grandmother had passed away early that morning. Visitation was Friday evening from 4pm to 7pm, and the funeral service will be at 10am on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, instead of being with my family, I am stuck here in Korea.
My grandmother was born on February 22nd, 1922. She would have been 91 next month. In spite of a fall last year, she was still in relatively good health, with no real problems save being forgetful and wobbly on her feet. She spent most of her time in her wheelchair, but she was still able to get up and around some with her walker. She was still putting on her makeup every morning and matching her clothes every day. As I said, aside from the occasional confusion and mental slips and bad knees, she was the picture of health: no heart trouble, no strokes, no weird diseases with unpronounceable names. Although one can’t exactly make the statement that a 90-year-old’s death is surprising, it did take us by surprise a bit, since she had been doing so well.
She passed away peacefully in her sleep. There is no evidence of a stroke or other sudden trauma. She got up as usual around 2am for her bathroom run, and when Grandpa got up around 7am or so, he was unable to wake her. He was in denial for a bit and went to make her a cup of coffee before he called my uncle and said that he couldn’t wake Grandma up. The funeral home director, who is an old family friend, estimated that she probably passed on around 4am.
When I talked with my uncle from Arizona, he had an interesting story. His wife is quite religious, and she woke up around what would have been 4:15am Central Standard Time. She woke up thinking of my grandma and told my uncle that she had the urge to pray for her, which she did. They received the call from my grandpa later that morning.
My grandpa has been quite good through all of this. He’s obviously very saddened, as they were married for nearly 70 years, and they were high school sweethearts. He still made all of the phone calls to the family and all of the funeral arrangements. He even chose the flowers for the casket spray – a dozen red roses, which is what he always gave her for special occasions. Nevertheless, he hasn’t been sleeping that well, and he has his moments. He has admitted that he can’t quite believe it yet, and he knows that after everyone goes home, it’s going to get a lot worse.
We’re unable to be there for several reasons. The first and most important is that the baby can’t travel yet. She has a hole in her heart that we’re hoping will close, and she really can’t afford to catch an illness on an airplane, as it could cause a heart infection. The hole isn’t tremendously serious, as it hasn’t caused her any other problems, but we don’t want to chance it. She also doesn’t have her US passport yet, which she needs to travel into the States. On top of all of this, we’re also in the middle of negotiations/asshattery with my boss. We can’t put the baby in daycare because of her health, so I’m staying home with her. We’re trying to wrangle the apartment, and it isn’t going well. There’s also the issue of maternity pay. Basically, we could find ourselves in a position where we’re moving house and putting down $5K-$10K for a deposit in the next few weeks, and that makes any international plane ticket unaffordable. Yeah, we’re having a great new year.
In all honesty, I’ve been very sad, and I know it’s for myself. My grandma was my best friend and my mom, and it is very hard to accept the fact that we’re never going to shoot the breeze again, watch HGTV and wonder at the money people spend on houses, go shopping together, drive around looking at the Christmas lights, and talk smack about people we know. She’s never going to give me advice, tell me I need to lose weight, or gush over Brett again. She isn’t going to answer when I call home. She isn’t going to be there when I get back. It’s almost impossible to picture the house that they have lived in for about 60 years without her in it. She’s the lady of the house, and it isn’t home without her in it.
I can’t be sad for my grandmother, really. She lived a very long, full life – longer than most of us will live. Her knees were bad and she had arthritis, but she was never sick and never suffered. She traveled all over – Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, Canada, the Caribbean… She taught school in an era where women with children generally didn’t teach. She raised four kids, who in turn provided her with 10 grandchildren, who went on to create nine great-grandchildren. Granted, her life was no without its sorrows – she never got over my mother’s death – but everyone has hard times. Taken as a whole, my grandma lived a great life, and the only thing she was left wanting for at the end, as she would not hesitate to remind anyone who would listen, was a decent kitchen. She was really bitter that Grandpa never renovated the kitchen.
I feel as though I’ve lost my mom again, and in a way, I have. She was more mom to me than my real mother was, though not because my mother didn’t want to be here. I feel like I don’t have a home to go to anymore, even though Grandpa (my dad) is still there. The house isn’t home without her in it. I feel as though I’ve been irrevocably forced into adulthood. I know how ridiculous that sounds at the age of 28 and having just given birth to a child of my own, but there’s something about the existence of parents that makes you feel as though, in some way, you’re still a child, on some level. Now I know that I’m not a child anymore. I have to find my own way in the world, free of a safety net and free of my folks’ expectations. It is time to do for myself.
In one sense, that is incredibly liberating, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not fucking terrified. There is no more room for screw-ups. It’s time to get serious. It’s time to make her proud.
I suppose an addendum might be, aside from feeling more adult because of the disappearance of the rock in my life, I know I’m getting older for one very big reason: regret. I regret so deeply that I’m not there. I owed it to her, and it’s the one thing I can’t do right now. If I were still pregnant. If the baby were older. If, if, if… I always used to wonder why older people made their decisions so slowly and carefully, and now I understand: they don’t want to saddle themselves with more regrets than they already have. Looking back and wishing we could change things is an inescapable fact of life, but in the last five years, I feel as though I’ve racked up enough regret for 20 years’ worth of living.
The funeral starts in an hour. It is midnight here, and I’m the only one awake (although the baby might open her eyes again here shortly and demand another feed, attention, or whatever). I’m sort of waiting for the funeral to start, even though I’m not there and can’t see or hear what’s going on. Part of me feels I need to stay up until it’s over. It’s only going to be about 30 minutes; Grandpa didn’t think it needed to be long, boring and weepy, and I agree with his sentiments.
I can’t be there in person to say goodbye to my grandmother, so I’m going to have to find my own way to make peace with her death. I don’t know how long that will take or if I even ever will. After 22 years, I’m still not sure I’ve totally got my head around my mother’s death. There are some holes in your life that can’t be filled, no matter how much living and how many other relationships you shovel into them. Maybe this will be one of those holes. I’ll settle right now for a day without tears. I know Grandma would not have wanted me to cry, but I can’t help it. I miss her, and I love her, and I still can’t quite believe that she’s not coming back.
My regular readers all know that I’ve had a restraining order out against Old Man Winter for several years now. That doesn’t keep him from showing up on my doorstep around the end of November like a drunken ex-boyfriend who can’t take a hint, but I try my best to keep him at bay. I hate everything to do with him except for ice hockey, figure skating, and Christmas. Really, ice skating is the only aspect of winter I enjoy. Oh, and German Christmas markets and Glühwein. Hot, spiced wine is always a positive. The rest of it? Not worth the trouble.
However, this year has added the extra challenge of being a new mom in the winter. Let me tell you straight up that having a new baby when winter sets in pretty much sucks. For one thing, new babies are sort of fragile and sensitive to cold temperatures. They have huge body area relative to their mass, which is pretty small, so they get cold easily. This means that I spend inordinate amounts of time concerned with the temperature of the house and the baby’s room, which has proven to be the coldest in the house, of course. The problem with this is that my baby runs hot like her dad, so getting her the right temperature is a battle. Too many clothes and she sweats. Too few and she gets chilly.
The really crappy thing about winter and new babies though is that you can’t really take them anywhere. For one thing, the daylight hours are few, and the sun just isn’t warming anything this year. We’re having a cold one here in Korea, and it’s too cold to take the baby outside for any length of time. What I wouldn’t give to shove her in the stroller and go for a walk! It would be heaven to get outside in the sun, even if it was cool! Unfortunately, it’s very windy here because of the mountains, and I’d have to bundle her so tightly and would only be able to go out for such a short period of time that it hardly seems worth the effort.
The other problem with venturing out is that everyone is sick. Everyone. Koreans, as I have said, also have this dirty habit of spitting everywhere, so they’re all snorting and hacking and spitting, and it’s just disgusting. Everywhere you go, people are coughing, sneezing, and wiping runny noses. Going to the doctor’s office is an insane challenge, since most of the kids there are living examples of infectious diseases, and God knows that most kids (especially the kids here) don’t cover their mouths or noses when they hack and sputter all over themselves and everyone around them.
Basically, we try and keep Brett inside. We don’t want her getting sick, because we all know how much fun a sick baby is. Besides, she has some other health complications that could potentially be made worse by illness, so we don’t want to risk it. The result of this is that I never go out. Even though I spend most of the doctor visits dodging sick kids, they’re the highlights of the month for me. Going for a frozen walk in the evening after she settles in for bedtime is my Zen time. And that, friends and neighbors, is a sad reality.
We bought a stroller cover that keeps off wind, rain, and grossness but still allows the baby to see out, and we’re thinking about eventually packing the stroller up over the weekend and taking her to the big park in Changwon, if it’s not too cold. We’re both so desperate just to go anywhere that isn’t the grocery store, work, or the corner store that we’re willing to risk some slight cold, providing that she has that windscreen.
My cousin told me once that winter is a crap time for little kids, and I really believe it now. They can’t play outside, they don’t get much, if any, sun. He said that his kids were much happier in the summer, when they could go outside and run and play and make merry. They’d also be more ready for bed when the time came because they’d had good exercise and felt tired from the exertion. Besides, it’s more interesting for kids to be outside than sat around in the house, playing with the same old toys and watching Mom do the dishes. How exciting.
I guess it’s lucky that Brett thinks that me singing her “Pudgy Wudgy” song, teaching her to dance, and giving her tummy time are enough excitement for now. I still can’t help but think that she’d like to go outside and see the world. Maybe I’m projecting my desires onto her, but I suspect she’s as bored as her mother. And if that’s the case, we’re both going stir-crazy with cabin fever.
I doubt things are going to improve much anytime soon, however. This winter has been exceptionally cold with more snow than I’ve ever seen in Masan. We had about six inches or more before New Year’s, and it was wet snow, so there are still huge frozen patches of snow/ice everywhere. The folks here don’t seem to know how to tackle snow. Here’s a hint, Masan: rock salt is a damn good starting point. At this point, I doubt that we’re going to see a serious thaw until March, and that’s horribly depressing. January is the worst month ever, and February doesn’t have much to brag about either, save for the fact that it’s short. And March, as we say in the old Midwest, can be the fairest or the foulest.
Whatever the case, I’m ready for spring. I’ve already started my countdown. There are officially 74 days until spring, counting today. I like to think that by the time March 20th rolls around, things will be looking up. I’ll be able to head outside with the baby and not worry excessively about her freezing to death or catching Korean death flu, SARS, or ebola. I long for the day when the cherry blossoms start to appear. I long for the hot days of summer, when we can go outside in tank tops and sandals. Winter, I’m calling the cops again about that restraining order. You seem to have forgotten that I can have you arrested. … In case you were curious, having Old Man Winter thrown in jail is like having Lindsay Lohan thrown in the clink: the charges won’t stick, and even if they do, she’ll be out in 84 minutes due to overcrowding.
I know that I mentioned maternity leave and payment during that time in previous posts, but I’ve had enough problems with this lately that I feel like it warrants a post all its own. If you are a teacher in Korean, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: you’ll be damn lucky if you get maternity leave, and you’ll be even luckier if it’s paid. Academy directors are loathe to pay mat leave, as I have so recently discovered. If/When you get pregnant in Korea, you need to know what you’re entitled to and whether or not you want to wrangle for it. Believe me, you will have to wrangle for it.
You need to know your rights under Korean Labor Law. Maternity leave and pay doesn’t have to be outlined in your contract; it’s outlined in national law, and it applies to you the same as it applies to every Korean working woman. First of all, you are entitled to 90 days of leave, period. No questions. Now, the part concerning pay can get a little bit tricky.
Any business with more than five employees is legally obligated to offer government employee insurance. This covers unemployment, mat leave, etc. You can decide whether to pay into it or not. You must pay in at least 180 days prior to the last day of maternity leave. If your employer has this insurance and you have been paying in, the government will cover partial salary for the third month of your leave. Your employer is obligated to pay your full salary for the first two months, regardless of whether or not they have this insurance.
Let me repeat that: Your employer is obligated to pay your full salary for the first two months, regardless of whether or not they have this insurance.
My boss did not know this. The labor board, when I called, did not tell me this. I suspect it had to do with the language barrier, and I didn’t pursue it like I should have because I’m dumb. Don’t be dumb. My boss is now livid about all of this and made it very clear that he would never have resigned with me if he’d known that I expected mat leave pay. He considered it a betrayal, frankly. Although I feel bad for my mistake of not having it sorted sooner, I also feel it is his responsibility to know the ins and outs of the labor law. It certainly was in his best interest to know this beforehand, and he failed to find out. I can’t be held responsible for his failings.
You will be very lucky if your boss offers to renew the contract, once he/she finds out you are pregnant. Very lucky. If they know they have to pay mat leave, you’re likely to find yourself out of a job and on a plane home. It gives one some incentive not to get pregnant in Korea. If I had it to do over, at this point, I would have gone home during my second trimester. I’m not sure that I would have held off on getting pregnant while here, but I would have thought a bit harder about it.
The honest truth is that someone needs to look after our baby because she has a couple of health complications that make putting her into daycare unwise. If she were to catch a cold or something worse – and let’s face it, in daycare, she would – it could have potentially long-lasting and very detrimental effects on her health. Unfortunately, having one half of a couple working and maintaining a two bedroom apartment is an uphill battle here, especially when the apartment comes with one job (mine). We’re trying to negotiate a settlement with my boss now, and it hasn’t been going that well. We’ve tried to work out something where nobody gets burned, but it’s tough to do, and negotiating with Koreans isn’t quite as straightforward as negotiating with Westerners, in some cases.
I feel badly for springing this on my boss. We have had an excellent relationship, and I know that things will never be the same, if I have to go back. For that, I feel a lot of sorrow. I also know that I’m doing the right thing for my family, and family well-being supersedes work relationships that will cease to exist once I get on the plane. I know that sounds harsh, but ultimately, it’s the truth. Korea is not my forever home, and I will never be grateful enough to my boss for helping me find a car or buying a new air conditioner that I put my child in harm’s way. Life doesn’t work like that. It makes me sad though, because I understand where he’s coming from and why he feels the way he does.
Ultimately, my final advice on pregnancy in Korea is this: DON’T DO IT. Unless you are a permanent resident married to a Korean and are in control of your own apartment lease, DON’T DO IT. You will most likely find yourself out of a job, and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle for maternity leave and pay that will probably still end in you being out of a job and possibly flying home on your own dime.
That said, if you insist on giving birth here, please read the attachment I’m providing and speak with your local labor board about all of your options. You need to know the facts, and the facts are that your boss owes you paid maternity leave, regardless of whether or not they want to pay. They will not want to pay. Weigh all of your options very carefully before making your final decision. If you decide to have your baby here, best of luck to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
This item also covers the three days of maternity leave for fathers, effective as of 2008.